Translators Know Things That Nobody Else Knows

My first translation dates back to more than ten years ago, when I was freshly graduated with very poor experience in translation. I worked as a news translator in a press review office. My job was to monitor the media, translate news articles, and write short abstracts in order to quickly provide the clients with up-to-date information about their sector, their company, the competitors, and their reputation.

One day, a client was particularly interested in an article and its related sources. Among them, there was a very long and detailed dossier. Since I was the most recent hire, inexperienced and full of motivation, I was the designated victim for this assignment.

Back then, I considered it a show of trust. The truth was, they were just too busy, and simply did not want to be bothered by such a long and demanding translation. I started working on it as soon as I could; only now I can imagine my colleagues snickering in their cubicles.

The assignment was enormous. What was more, I did not know the first thing about its topic. The further into the translation I was going, the more frustrated I was getting, and the more my motivation faded. I began feeling so bored I didn’t even search for the most obscure terminology anymore, just making wild guesses as I went along. I just wanted to finish this awful translation and have my life back.

It took three long days to finish the assignment. I was reading and re-reading it many times in order to spot any possible mistake. Inevitably, it led to me learning it by heart, unable to realise whether or not what I wrote was correct. I didn’t even care; I just wanted to get rid of that awful wall of words.

Eventually I sent it. I was finally free. Back to my life.

After a couple of weeks, my colleagues told me that my translation was accepted and publicly available online. I couldn’t believe it! I didn’t know this translation had been so important. All happy, I checked it online – and lo and behold, they had indeed published it.

It was incredibly rewarding. Excited, I started to publicly promote it among my friends and family members…. until one of them spotted a huge mistake in the title.

The error was apparent. Instead of checking the correct Italian term, I had translated the title literally. How awful, worst thing a translator could do! My mistake was there, visible to everybody, blinking in the bold font.

Lesson learnt: do not ever underestimate the importance of terminology.

There are several pieces of advice that I can draw from that early experience: the use of correct terminology is what proves the quality of your translation. When dealing with a difficult translation, take your time, and make more time. Carry out all the necessary research and don’t rush it. It may not always be feasible to invest this amount of time into each term you deal with, but I would advise that not checking the reliability of your terms poses higher risks, or may involve higher costs later.

If the topic is boring, take a long breath and persuade yourself to be interested in it anyway. There’s always a hook. People in this line of work have a great opportunity to learn new things every time they get a new translation. It’s a trick of the trade that during the long and often tedious phase of research, the truly great translators learn to enjoy the treasures they find.

‘Translators know things that almost nobody else knows ’, and that’s what I love most about my job. Think about the many things you have translated since you started. Very few ever learn about these topics, much less get paid to read and write about them; that’s why being a translator is the best job for those of us whose defining trait is curiosity.

Read more stories from other translators about their first translation here >>